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Affirm prices above range in further sign of hot IPO market

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Affirm, the consumer lender led by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, sold shares well above its expected price range during an initial public offering, in a sign of the continued exuberance for new US listings.

The San Francisco-based company raised $1.2bn in the offering after selling shares at $49 a piece, according to two people briefed on the matter, a price level that exceeded its already bumped up range of $41 to $44.

Affirm would have a market capitalisation of $11.9bn at the IPO price, based on the number of shares outstanding after the offering. The company declined to comment.

Affirm’s listing extended a frenzied run of tech IPOs dating back to the second half of last year, while delivering a second big win for Mr Levchin almost two decades after he helped to take PayPal public.

Founded by Mr Levchin in 2012, Affirm offers a “buy now, pay later” product that online shoppers can use to spread out payments on big-ticket items. Affirm makes most of its revenues from fees it charges to merchants, often resulting in customers paying zero interest. The company also offers interest-bearing loans without late fees.

Sales through Peloton, the fitness company, have historically produced a large chunk of Affirm’s business, representing 28 per cent of the company’s total revenues in the 12 months to June.

The company reported net losses of $113m on revenues of $510m in the 12 months to June, shrinking from losses of $121m on $264m of revenues in the previous fiscal year.

A boom in the business of online consumer lending means it has faced competition from overseas groups such as Afterpay and Klarna, as well as PayPal, which introduced a buy now, pay later offering last year.

Affirm’s IPO comes during a busy week of new listings in the US. The ecommerce site Poshmark and the mobile gaming company Playtika are also expected to go public in the coming days, providing an early test of the market this year.

At Affirm’s IPO price, Mr Levchin would own a stake in the company worth almost $1.4bn. Since leaving PayPal, he has become known as a prolific investor, backing tech start-ups through his firm SciFi VC and starting new companies through a vehicle called HVF.

The Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC was the largest outside investor in Affirm, with a stake that would be worth almost $1.1bn at the IPO price. Shopify, the Canadian ecommerce company, also held more than $990m in shares it received from a partnership it struck with Affirm last year, which allowed the fintech company to offer its product on Shopify merchant sites.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Allen & Co served as lead underwriters on the offering.



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Singapore offshore-listed companies consider ‘homecoming’ flotations

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Some of Singapore’s largest offshore-listed companies have considered whether to hold “homecoming” share sales in the city-state after approaches from its stock market and investment bankers.

The talks, which followed a recent wave of homecoming listings by Chinese technology companies in Hong Kong, would provide a boost for the south-east Asian nation’s bourse, the Singapore Exchange.

Singaporean companies that have discussed the move include Sea, an internet company that listed in New York in 2017, ride-hailing and food delivery app Grab and Hong Kong-listed gaming group Razer, according to several people familiar with the talks. Grab is separately listing via a special purpose acquisition company, or Spac, in the US.

The homecoming listings in Hong Kong were driven by political pressure from the US, but they have allowed the groups to raise large amounts from investors closer to their China headquarters.

SGX’s equity trading business, meanwhile, has been hurt by a series of accounting scandals that have led to delistings as well as low trading volumes.

It has struggled to attract tech names despite partnerships with the Nasdaq and Tel Aviv exchanges and has looked for other routes to grow, including a proposal to become the first bourse in Asia to allow Spac listings.

A US investment banker in Singapore said: “Historically the idea you could do meaningful local listings was only possible for a very select group, but that has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. The homecoming exercise in Hong Kong has created a huge amount of extra liquidity for those companies.”

SGX told the Financial Times it had seen “increasing interest in our secondary listing framework as companies see the value of being listed closer to home”.

However, one senior investment banker said the SGX’s small size meant secondary listings there “make little sense from a capital markets perspective but there may be political pressure”.

The market capitalisation of Singapore’s equity market totalled about $690bn at the end of April — equivalent to about one-tenth of Hong Kong’s $6.9tn market, according to FT calculations based on figures provided by the exchanges.

Sea, whose market value of $145bn makes it larger than most US tech stocks, has been approached by SGX and bankers about a possible dual listing, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The company has talked to its bankers at Goldman Sachs about whether to explore such a deal, according to a second person. Sea and Goldman declined to comment. 

SGX has approached a string of other high-profile foreign-listed companies, according to a senior investment banker in Singapore familiar with the matter.

Grab, south-east Asia’s answer to Uber, has looked into whether to carry out a secondary listing in Singapore after it completes its $40bn Spac deal to list on Nasdaq, according to two people close to the matter.

The ride-hailing giant, whose backers include Singapore state investment fund Temasek, said: “We’ve explored opportunities in south-east Asia, but do not have plans for a secondary listing now.”

Hong Kong-listed Razer, which sells video game electronics, is in talks with banks about listing on a second exchange, according to two people familiar with the matter.

South-east Asia has benefited as international investors diversify away from China amid geopolitical tensions with the US, and following growth in its tech and consumer sectors. 

David Biller, head of investment banking for south-east Asia at Citi, said countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were “now at the forefront of investable growth in the region away from China and India”.

Martin Siah, head of south-east Asia global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America, said it had been a “breakout year” for investment banking activity in south-east Asia, particularly in Thailand and the Philippines.

This year, investment bank fees from deals in countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose largest markets are Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, are at a near-record level of $175m, according to data from Dealogic.

Additional reporting by Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

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Electric vehicle Spacs: Lordstown hits its city limits

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If Lordstown was one of its own electric pick-up trucks, it would have conked out a couple of feet from the charging point. The US group has warned it could fail as a business, running out of cash before even starting commercial production.

Lordstown only listed via a $1.6bn Spac takeover last October. The wheels are coming off fast. That confirms the weakness of the business models of many electric vehicle companies. US markets exuberantly chose to overlook these when the groups listed, excited by the overblown forecasts permitted once a company lists via a takeover by a special purpose acquisition vehicle.

A two-thirds collapse in Lordstown’s shares since February is further validation for Hindenburg Research, which last year took a successful swipe at electric freight truckmaker Nikola. The short seller questioned Lordstown’s sales figures in March. Last month, the company said production of its $52,500 Endurance pick-up truck this year would be “at best” just half prior expectations of 2,200 units.

At least 18 electric vehicle and battery companies went public via Spac deals from the start of 2020, raising a combined $6.6bn from investors, according to Refinitiv. Few of these companies generate significant revenues. Many of them have missed targets.

Shares in Canoo are more than 50 per cent below a December peak after ditching many of its goals. XL Fleet has lost even more of its value after it abandoned guidance for 2021 revenue.

Traditional automakers have rebounded. General Motors shares are up by a half since the start of the year, for example.

The Spac listing process is partly to blame for over-promising by EV makers. It enabled them to publish very optimistic financial projections, compared to what is permitted in a traditional IPO.

Investment often involves backing what sceptics see as a long shot. Tesla took years to hit production targets and turn a profit. The added problem for investors now is that EV production has become a crowded field. Heavy research is required to identify a hot prospect among the no hopers. Extra scepticism applies to businesses listed via a Spac.

The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of Lordstown and other EV Spacs in the comments section below.



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Shares in group linked to China’s Three Gorges Dam surge on debut

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China Three Gorges Renewables Group’s stock surged by 44 per cent on its debut after the company raised $3.6bn in China’s largest initial public offering of 2021.

Shares in the renewable energy arm of China Three Gorges Corp, the state-owned company that lends its name to the hydropower dam on the Yangtze river, shot up the maximum daily amount permitted by the Shanghai stock exchange on Thursday.

The group raised Rmb22.7bn ($3.6bn) in its IPO, the largest equity debut in the country since a $7.6bn share sale by China’s biggest chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, last July. The first day jump pushed the company’s market capitalisation to $17.1bn, according to Bloomberg.

The day one pop for China Three Gorges Renewables, which also has interests in wind power, came as China faces a sharp rise in the cost of coal-fired power.

The move reflected strong appetite from Chinese investors for green energy assets as Beijing seeks to make wind a far greater contributor to the country’s electricity output, said Bruce Pang, head of research for investment bank China Renaissance.

“It’s not just a trend in China — it’s a trend across the world,” Pang said.

Demand for shares in the IPO outstripped supply 78 times, according to the company.

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The group will use part of the share sale proceeds to cover almost half the cost of seven offshore wind turbine projects, as it and other renewables companies rush to complete infrastructure before government subsidies expire at the end of the year.

“We anticipate China Three Gorges will strive to finish the projects this year in order to receive the subsidies,” said Apple Li, a credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings.

The credit rating agency said this week that the IPO would provide a significant injection to the balance sheet of parent group China Three Gorges as the subsidiary pursues an “ambitious non-hydro renewables development plan” over the next few years.

China Three Gorges Renewables on Tuesday launched its first floating offshore wind power platform off the coast of Zhejiang province in south-eastern China. The company said the platform could deliver “green and clean energy for 30,000 households a year”.

Unlike fixed wind turbines, which can only operate in shallow waters, floating turbines can generate electricity further offshore, harnessing the power of stronger ocean winds. 

In September, China committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, but its industry-fuelled recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has put pressure on its environmental ambitions. In 2020, it produced record amounts of steel and increased approvals for new coal plants.

Research last year led by Wang Muyi, an analyst at UK think-tank Ember, found that new wind, hydro, solar and nuclear energy investments could not keep up with a sharp rise in electricity use in China between May and October.

The country is also suffering from a shortage of coal as industrial activity booms, pushing up prices. Last month, a state council meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang emphasised the need to further tap China’s “rich coal resources”, but added that the capacity of wind, solar, nuclear and hydropower would be increased to ensure energy supply this summer.

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